So the Princess married her Prince Charming and they lived happily ever after. . . as the fairy tales go. But what does THAT mean? Is it even possible in real life? And if it is, what would our happy-ever-after look like?
It’s pretty tough to explain what happiness is. Have you ever tried? Efforts date back to Aristotle and Plato centuries ago.
So here’s where I think we should make sure we’re on the same page. And maybe a negative definition would be helpful.
Happiness does not mean ‘feeling good’ and ‘having fun’ all the time. If it did, we would all just get high, party hard and live happily ever after.
Happiness doesn’t mean being rich and famous. Everyone knows that many other things trump wealth and fame.
Perfect health does not guarantee happiness. Neither do Hollywood-white teeth, Barbie-boobs nor bulging biceps.
By the way, did you know that there is a field of study dedicated solely to the study of happiness????? Yep, it’s that important! Positive Psychology – the scientific study of (get this) “Subjective Well-being.” (SWB) Sheesh!
But let’s try to keep this as elusive concept as simple as possible.
“Happiness is the experience of joy, contentment and positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.” Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky
So they’re three aspects to consider:
- fulfillment – pleasure
- life satisfaction – meaning
- positive relationships – engagement
To find our happy-ever-after, we have to develop some life-long habits.
Habit # 1: Choosing to be happy
Happiness is a choice. The first thing you have to do is choose to be happy.
Check the Happy box. And you do that every day. (Even if the IV line in your arm has blown for the fourth time and both arms are swollen and discolored and speckled with bulky squares of gauze, held on by jagged pieces of tape that you know will leave sticky white tracks when you finally rip them off).
Every morning, you choose to be happy. (Even if the thought of thinking about breakfast makes your stomach flip and your tongue is so white and fuzzy from medications that you know everything is going to taste like unseasoned, low-fat cardboard).
You get the picture. No matter what, check the happy box. That simple decision to try to be happy makes a big difference.
I have an old friend who, no matter what is going on in his life, is always, “on top of the world.” (You’ve taught me a lot G).
Don’t confuse liking your situation with being happy despite your situation. Make happiness your number one goal. Just doing that counts.
FYI: According to research, healthy people are 20% happier than average. So if you’re like me, you really have to remember to check that box.
Habit # 2: Staying Calm
I’ve got three words for you: simplicity; mindfulness; relaxation.
Remember Balu? – the bear from Disney’s Jungle Book. He’s ‘my man’ when it comes to simplifying life. Bare Necessities is the way to go for your happy-ever-after.
So de-clutter your mind. Start with that worry list most of us tend to carry around. You know – that mental list – the one with all the ‘to-do’s,’ the ‘if-only’s’ and the ‘what-if’s’. Instead, try writing a 3-item, do-able, to-do list; store it somewhere, ditch everything else. Now you don’t have to drag the mental one around.
De-clutter your schedule. Multitasking? Highly overrated. In fact, multi-tasking increases stress and decreases efficiency. Focus on one thing at a time. Some things may not get done but that’s okay. You don’t have to be the do-it-all.
And while you are at it, declutter your physical space as well. If you don’t need it right then, can it (you can stash it somewhere out of sight). Clutter can foster a disorganized mindset.
I recently found out that our brains come uploaded with an app I now call ‘auto-pilot’ – kicks in when you do something without even experiencing it.
You probably know the one I mean. The brain-app that allows you to drive home from work without remembering if you stopped at the red-light or even when you pulled into your driveway.
Well you’ll have to practice deactivating your auto-pilot so that you can tune in to all the little details that make the ‘now experience’ rich and fulfilling. Maybe the beautiful scenery on your ride home; the song on the radio you can’t help but sing along to, even though you don’t know the words; the brave knight on the white stallion (cute guy in the pearl-white, Mercedes SUV that pulled up next to yours at the traffic stop), and of course traffic lights.
Take in the scents, textures, sounds, sights of the experience and don’t let your mind wander. Distractions sneak up on you and too often, reliving the past or worrying about the future can steal the experience of the ‘now’.
If you meditate, great! You already know that even 10 minutes of meditation can clear your mind and calm you down. So for at least 10 minutes each day, think about nothing but your breathing. If your attention strays, grab and drag it back to your breathing.
Did you know that half of working Americans do not take their full vacation time? Crazy – I know! Or has it ever happened that you went on vacation but returned so exhausted that you needed a vacation? Take it easy sometimes. Sloooow down. Chill out!
Use all your senses to help you find a safe-haven.
- Smell: calming scents – lavender or jasmine scented sachets and candles.
- Touch: smooth, soft textures – silk sheets, cuddle pillows, pets (real or stuffed).
- Sound: soothing wind chimes, the sound of water, your favorite songs (sing along – out loud, and dance if you feel like it).
- Taste: indulge yourself with your favorite treat – chocolate, liqueurs (exercise some restraint though).
- Sight: surround yourself with happy memories – photographs, keepsakes, momentos.
Look for the humor in situations and laugh out loud. Don’t take everything personally. Put on ‘rose-colored glasses’ every once in a while – no harm, as long as you know you’re wearing them. Do things that make you feel good – as long as it’s legal.
Researchers claim that as much as 50% of our happiness depends on genetics and 10% on circumstances. If we have total control of only 40% of our happiness (personal outlook), we really have to make our efforts count.
I’m researching 3 more “happy habits” to share with you in Part 2 of this article. In the meantime, start working on choosing to be happy and staying calm.
My Top 3 Happy Songs
Happy – Pharrell Williams
Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
The Bare Necessities – Balu the Bear; Disney
The Scientific Proof That Happiness is a Choice – Huffington Post
Becoming Alive Again: Find Happiness Right Where You Are – Julia Matthews in TinyBuddha.com
10 Ways to Find Happiness – Dr. Robert Holden in Oprah.com